Gypsy weighs 22 pounds, but is still small enough to attract the attention of two great horned owls. Last night Bruce walked up to the pump house with Gypsy. The sun had just set, and the owls were perched above the pump house when he and Gypsy arrived. Bruce was working on the electrical box when Gypsy left him and went running down the road back to our farmhouse. She was wearing a long check cord, but Bruce failed to catch her. And, she was in an ignoring mood, so she did not heed his voice. He called me from his cell phone, and I was in the bedroom. I went to the phone, but Gypsy had pushed the phone off the dresser, and, so the phone was under the bed. I couldn’t reach the phone. I could hear the owls outside the bedroom window, but I had no idea Gypsy might be in danger. Apparently the owls flew over Gypsy as she ran and followed her down to the farmhouse. They were now settled on an electric pole not far from our front door.
Bruce called me again, and I went out to the kitchen to get the phone. Once I heard his story, I put the phone down and ran to the front door. Gypsy was standing on the welcome mat looking up at me. What a relief.
Gypsy still thinks everyone is just like her. By this I mean she doesn’t recognize other creatures such as donkeys and cats as being any different from her. She acts as though the donkeys and the cat want to play in the same way she does. Also, she thinks the donkeys and the cat are chew toys. Her motto: Make ‘em squeak! The problem is the cat doesn’t like being pounced on and bitten, and nor do the donkeys.
She loves the donkeys, and each time she sees them her butt wiggles, and her tail begins to wag furiously back and forth. I sigh, because I know she has no idea what she is getting into. And, when I take her over to the donkeys she tries to jump up on them and bite them to get them to play like when she roughhouses with Skookum and Ouzel. The donkeys try and dodge her. They appear to know the nutty puppy means them no harm, but still they can’t relax around her. And I am sure we are always moments away from “the kick.”
Of course one kick from a donkey would wake her up, but I can’t take the risk of the donkey really injuring her, as much as I think a warning kick would be of benefit, so I have to wait until she gets more coordinated (to get out of the way) and more mature before allowing her around the donkeys without being on a lead.
Next week we leave for twenty days of bird hunting and traveling in the R.V. with all three dogs. Have I lost my mind?
But, first we’ll attend the Schwartz annual Duck Camp near Toppenish, Washington. It’ll be Gypsy’s first Duck Camp, and she’ll meet a variety of waterfowl hunting dogs and about twenty of their people.
Gypsy won’t be able to hunt much this year, but she’ll be exposed to wild game, and she will see Skookum and Ouzel hunt. There’s nothing like experience with wild birds to bring a young bird dog along. By the time she gets back home in November maybe she’ll be mature enough to treat the donkeys and the cat with a bit more respect.
Today I planted my ugly little garden. I’ve named it the “ugly little garden” after Hans Christian Andersen’s 1844 tale “The Ugly Duckling.” In the story a mother duck is surprised to find that one of her ducklings looks different from the rest. He’s as big as a loaf of bread and gray whereas his brothers and sisters are about the size of a goose egg and soft yellow. Her gray “ugly” duckling totters awkwardly around the barnyard sometimes tripping and falling whereas his much smaller yellow siblings skedaddle easily across the dirt yard.
And like Hans Christian Andersen’s ugly duckling, my garden just doesn’t fit into the neighborhood. The land behind our barn slopes, so we had Dan (our dirt mover and shaker) use his backhoe to take soil from the house building site to pile behind the barn and level off for a garden.
I wanted to begin my first vegetable garden with the big three—squash, beans, and tomatoes. Interwoven between the vegetables I imagined flowers planted to attract predatory insects. By predatory insects I mean –the good guys– ladybugs, praying mantes, garden spiders, and green lacewings that eat –the bad guys– aphids, cabbage worms, and cucumber beetles. The proposed colorful flowers would have decorated the garden with splashes of reds, yellows, oranges, and blues. I had a lovely dream of produce coming to perfection on the vines while bees and hummingbirds visited the bright blossoms. I fear all this was envisioned but not realized.
With moving into the new house I never got around to starting any seed, and the flat garden area Dan created has been overtaken by weeds, while the constructed raised beds I hoped for became old fruit bins from a local apple orchard. These bins were generously given to Bruce by the orchard owner, and, indeed they may turn out to be fantastic raised beds, but they were unexpected. Like the mother duck that did not know what to make of the strange big duckling she found amongst her hatchlings, I’m not sure how my ugly little garden will turn out. If it is a good ending, then my garden will transform into a beauty like the ugly duckling that, surprisingly, grew into a splendid white swan.
The herd instinct is especially strong in a burro. Not only does he need a companion to live with, but he can suffer separation anxiety. . . . –Dave Daney–veteran burro packer
One of the first things Peggy said when I told her what happened was, “That’s what you get when you take a bonded pair.”
Until today I didn’t fully understand what she meant by a bonded pair.
Donkeys are herd animals, and they like to be near other donkeys. But a bonded pair “needs” to be close to its partner.
I had both donkeys tied in the stall. Chippo was tied near the stall exit door, and Ziggy was tied across the room near the stall entrance. I began to rub Chippo’s furry coat with the idea of eventually working my way down to his feet, but, as usual Ziggy who was across the room also wanted attention, and he jerked at his rope and pawed the ground.
If I tied only one donkey the other donkey would bump and nip at the tied donkey making it impossible for me to do any work. If I tied both donkeys then the donkey that wasn’t getting attention fidgeted and pawed the ground like Ziggy was doing today.
I thought if I could work on one donkey at a time, I might get somewhere with my training. I only had five weeks to prepare for the farrier’s visit. By then the donkeys should be able to stand quietly tied, lift their feet when asked, and allow their feet to be cleaned with a hoof pick. In addition, the farrier would trim their feet by cutting the hoof down to the correct size and smoothing the outer hoof wall with an implement resembling a huge nail file called a rasp.
During the past three weeks I had been on over fifteen hikes with the donkeys, and I had spent at least two hours every day with them. I felt the donkeys were comfortable with me, so I figured they would be secure enough to separate for a few minutes.
I decided to close Chippo out of the stall, and make him stay in the paddock while I worked on Ziggy inside the stall. Surely Chippo would hear us just feet away from where he stood outside, and all would be well. I would open the door and exchange donkeys when I was finished with Ziggy.
After I shut Chippo outside I heard him banging up against the door and pawing the ground. After a minute I could only hear the sound of the wind outside, so I assumed Chippo was waiting—maybe even grazing– in the paddock until the door reopened.
Meanwhile, Ziggy was much more difficult to work with when the door was closed, than when I had both donkeys in the stall. He refused to pick up his feet, and suddenly he was stomping his left foot on the ground. His breathing picked up, and he kept twisting his head back so he could see the closed stall door. After a few minutes I gave up and admitted my experiment was a failure. I walked over and slid open the stall door. To my surprise Chippo was at the far end of the paddock, and when he saw I had opened the door, he galloped at full speed toward me. I jumped back, and quickly got to Ziggy and pulled the quick release on his lead line, so he was free. Chippo thundered into the stall, and I flattened against the wall. I’ve been to a horse race and seen how thoroughbreds blow when they’ve been running hard. Chippo’s nostrils flared, and his breath was so loud it was just short of snorting! The whites surrounding his wild eyes were visible, and emotion was rolling off the little burro’s body in waves. I kept speaking to Chippo in a soft voice, “it’s okay boy, it’s okay.” I felt a sharp pang of regret, because I had caused his distress. Still, I had trouble grasping why this short separation was such a crises.
In an effort to downplay the drama, I wondered what I could do to allay the tense situation. Perhaps a hike would be good for all of us, and maybe we could finish this session on a positive note. So, I gathered up both lead lines and began walking out of the stall toward the gate. I did not have the donkeys on lead, but Chippo trotted so closely to my left side he was almost brushing my clothing. He may have been afraid of being left behind. I reached down to give him a reassuring pat, and quick as a rattler he reached out and bit my left hand coming down hard on the index finger. I dropped both lines and screamed “no!” Chippo jumped aside. I felt frightened, and I looked down and saw blood pouring from my finger. I immediately headed for the gate. Once outside I ran into the tack room and got a towel to hold around my finger. Then I took my cell phone up the hill to the old farmhouse site, where I knew I had good reception, and called Peggy.
Peggy listened patiently as I unfolded the story.
“He bit you?” she said.
“Chippo obviously panicked. I think you may have separated them too soon,” she said.
“They need to be able to see each other. It is better to tie them about eight feet apart and begin with short training sessions. Eventually they will stand quietly, and they will pick up their feet—just keep at it and give them time to settle in. But, you will need to find a way to train them together within sight of each other. They are pair-bonded.”
I thanked Peggy, once again, and assured her that my finger was not broken, and the cut was not overly deep; it would heal. I recalled what she told me early on about donkeys remembering “everything,” and so I asked if Chippo would forgive. She assured me he would. I had my first lesson in what can happen if you try to break up a pair bond.
This point was brought up again the following day when I received an article in the mail from a friend entitled “A Love Affair” written by E. J. Kirchoff. The essay told the story of a little black donkey named Leroy that bonded with Jenny Fizz the family’s milk cow. The two did everything side by side. They ate “from the same manger, with heads close together, and [bedded] down in close proximity to each other.” And when Jenny Fizz “would have her calf, you’d think Leroy was the proud father.” When the calf was “weaned” or “went to market” Leroy would bray for the loss of the little one as Jenny Fizz mooed. Their deep friendship lasted many years.
Not wanting to break off that romance I put off the inevitable as long as I possibly could. But, the time came when the cow had to go. Leroy was devastated. He wandered around like a lost soul, searching for his mate. Or he would stand immobile for long periods of time, just looking off into space. Now and then he would voice his bereavement.
Shortly after Jenny Fizz died the little black donkey, by then “well up in his forties,” lay down in the sun and went to sleep “forever.”
It seemed remarkable to receive this story about a special pair bond, and to have just experienced, first hand, an example of how strong the pair bond in donkeys can be. I promised myself to never separate Chippo and Ziggy again, if I could avoid it, and to figure out a way to train them as a pair. In retrospect I realized the training that day had not been a complete failure as I learned a valuable lesson.
Author’s Note: The finger did feel much better after a few days. I have had the donkeys for ten weeks now, and Chippo has never attempted –after the separation event– to bite or show any aggressive behavior toward me whatsoever. Both donkeys are very gentle. They stand quietly when tied, they pick up their feet, and they lead. I have developed a method for working with them together, and though I still encounter challenges, I have had many training successes during the past few weeks.
Questions: Anyone else have an animal pair bond story?